Zane Campbell boasts one of the most distinguished lineages in country music, rivaling other Appalachian mountain royalty such as the Carter family and the Stoneman clan. His great-uncle, Guy Brooks, was a fiddler and songwriter with the seminal 1920s string band The Red Fox Chasers, one of the first groups to put authentic hillbilly music on commercial recordings.
Their raucous, bawdy 78-rpm records were the stuff of legend in the remote mountain country of western North Carolina called the Lost Provinces. And the stuff of controversy as well, the punk-rock records of their day. One record, “Virginia Bootleggers,” featured the lyrics “I’m gonna buy me a barrel of whiskey some of these days, hallelujah!” sung to the melody of an old gospel song, “River Of Jordan.” It was condemned as rank blasphemy by some locals, and it caused enough of a stir to get Brooks kicked out of his Baptist church.
Campbell takes fierce pride in this stubborn family trait that respects tradition but sees it in a creative, often subversive, light. Tradition is not something to worship blindly, but to wrestle with, and out of that tussle of old and new, to try to forge something original.
Likewise, his Aunt Ola Belle Reed (born Ola Wave Campbell in 1916), another black sheep from the hills of Ashe County, but from the other side of the family tree, turned down a big-time career in Nashville. Roy Acuff offered her a job in his Smoky Mountain Boys but she said no thanks to the King of Country Music: “I wasn’t taking orders from no man.” Instead of falling for the bright lights of Music City, she worked on her craft along the borderlands of the Mason-Dixon line, writing songs of exile and heartache and perseverance that would give inspiration to a new generation of folkies and punk rockers from Rhiannon Giddens to Tommy Ramone and beyond, a legacy that lives on today.
Eddie Dean, author of Pure Country: The Leon Kagarise Archives 1961-1971 (Process) and co-author of Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times by Dr. Ralph Stanley (Gotham).